Saw a Woman In Half
"Sawing a lady in half is easy. Sawing a lady in half and then joining her up together again is less easy, but can be done with practice."—Dirk Gently, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
One of the archetypal illusions of Stage Magic, along with the Pull a Rabbit Out of My Hat trick, Sawing a Woman In Half involves a pretty woman (the magician's assistant) being placed into a coffin-sized lidded wooden box, with a neck-hole in the top and ankle-holes in the bottom. Then, producing a large floppy hand-saw, the magician proceeds to saw through the box, through the woman's midsection, and through the table on which the box is resting. After that, the magician shoves in a pair of bizarre rectangular blades (sometimes called dividers) through the middle.
Then, if nothing unseemly has happened at this point, the magician pushes away the two halves of the table, possibly rotates them around (but carefully not showing the sawn ends to the audience) and moves them together again. And then the woman steps out of the reunited box, all in one piece, to the relief and applause of the audience.
Modern variants of the trick often skip the saw and use the rectangular blades instead, which are shoved in side by side. This has the advantage of allowing the magician to show the "cut" ends to the audience. Because it's a Discredited Trope by now (the secret has been explained on countless occasions), a Stage Magician who tries this is pretty much required to have some kind of special or unique variation if he wants to be taken seriously.
Sometimes, the second rectangular blade can get stuck and the magician will pull on the head of the assistant, causing the blade to fall. This is used as a joke on several occasions. Since the bottom half of the box has wiggling feet, expect Foot Focus at times.
The reasons for its notoriety are explained in detail in the Wikipedia article (linked above).
- Done in an M&M's commercial with Red as the magician and Yellow as the (unwilling) assistant.
- Done in Cat Soup only that the magician actually kills the woman and chops her into pieces before putting her together and reviving her with true magic.
- In Les Femmes en Blanc, a surgeon uses laser surgery to operate on his patient, but accidentally cuts his body in half. The patient, who is still alive, says his life is screwed up, and the last panel shows him as working as a magician's partner for this sawing magic trick.
- In The Sandman #26, Cain and Abel do a version of the trick to entertain Morpheus' guests; like all interactions between the two, it ends very badly for Abel.
- The non-serious 34th issue of Marvel Comics' What if? series proposes an alternate reality where Doctor Strange and associates were this kind of magicians instead of arcane sorcerers. Baron Mordo's betrayal of the Ancient One is interpreted as him performing his latest trick; sawing the Ancient One in half!
- A single-panel cartoon in issue #23 of Plop! depicted two paramedics walking alongside a morose-looking magician while carrying his assistant on a stretcher - still inside the box, with the saw sticking out of the middle.
- In the opening of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Harmony starts screaming as she's cut in half, but when they open the box, she's fine. "I'm going to be an actress."
- In Beetlejuice, one of the ghosts at the afterlife waiting room is a magician's assistant who did not survive being sawed in half.
- In Leprechaun 3, the titular villain kills Fazio the magician (in front of a live audience) by doing this 'trick' (except for real, guts and all).
- In the film Houdini (based very loosely on the life of Harry Houdini) Harry brings a "saw a woman in half" kit home, wakes his wife, and makes her get in. A Jump Cut happens as he's sawing, so he didn't do any "trick"; he just sawed, and she was OK.
- Attempted by the protagonists at the end of Road to Zanzibar.
- In Discworld, the coat-of-arms of the Guild of Conjurers shows a woman, with a saw-toothed bend dividing the image in half.
- In The Portable Door by Tom Holt books the head of a firm of (real) magicians does this to the assistant of a business rival at his son's birthday party. He then explains to his competitor that he'll leave her to die if he doesn't get his way.
- The Robert Bloch short story "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" has a retarded young homeless man used cruelly by a magician's assistant (also the magician's wife, who's cheating on him and wants him out of the way). She convinces him that the magic is real sorcery and the magician sold his soul to Satan, so there's no moral qualm about killing him. After the murder the young man decides to see if the magical power is still there in the magician's wand and decides to test it using the woman and the magician's buzzsaw finale... Adapted into an infamous episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (see below).
- The Bullshit! version of this involved a large buzzsaw, followed by seemingly revealing the trick as they usually do: however, they then proceeded to double subvert it by "accidentally" sawing the woman in half with the safety methods disabled, complete with lots of fake blood and screaming.
- For UK tropers, this version of the trick appeared on Penn & Teller: Fool Us.
- Penn and Teller have also performed the traditional version of the trick underwater for a magic special.
- Parodied in Monty Python's Flying Circus. "Last week I showed you how to saw a woman in half. This week I'll be showing you how to saw a woman in three pieces and hide the body."
- An episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents was made from the Robert Bloch story "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (see Literature above). Notably, this was the only episode the network refused to run (it turned up in syndication).
- An episode of Dinosaurs parodied the Judgment of Solomon, presenting the Solomon figure as a razzle-dazzle magician who cuts the baby in half using a version of this trick.
- Done in an episode of Quantum Leap. Don't worry, Sam was told every step by the assistant.
- The Muppet Show did this twice:
- In one episode, Wanda sings the titular line of "You Do Something to Me" while Wayne saws the box she's occupying in half. Apparently, it cut...
- In another, Fozzie attempts the trick with a substitute lady, namely, a comedy robot in a wig. The effect on Fozzie was rather shocking.
- Harry Blackstone once hypnotized LeVar Burton and cut through him, apparently without even severing one part of Burton from the other.
- In Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Cousin Mortimer saws Hilda in half. Things go awry when Hilda's legs run off.
- Mentioned and used on Arrested Development. In this case, Gob explains how the trick works to his brother... and a nearby kid overhears it.
- The live-action version of The Flash has Mark Hamill playing an Ax Crazy version of one of the more prominent Rogues, the Trickster. Before adopting the Trickster identity, James Jesse (in the identity of a magician) kidnaps a woman and attempts to saw her in half...with a chainsaw.
Jesse: Other magicians may give you the illusion of sawing a woman in half... (produces the chainsaw and slices through a nearby mannequin) ...but there's no substitute for the real thing!
- Spoofed by Ernie Kovacs in a 1950s appearance as Matzoh Heppelwhite, the inept magician. He asks the visible model whether she is ready, and she chirpily responds, "Ready!"—but is quickly followed by a second, muffled "Ready!" from within the lower half of the box.
- In CSI New York, a serial murderer magician, played by Criss Angel, commits his crimes in mockery of magic tricks. He kills one of his victims by sawing her in half for real.
- This was Fran and Gracie's talent performance for the mother/daughter pageant in The Nanny. Due to a bad initial run (Fran was stuck for hours), they changed it to a puppet show.
- Byker Grove has two girls get sawn in half on the same box with the girl's feet sticking right beside the other girl's head.
- Happens for real with Trish by her brother in the Austin and Ally episode "Club Owners & Quinceaneras".
- Warren Zevon's For my Next Trick I'll Need a Volunteer compares the singer's Unlucky In Love romantic history with that of a stage magician, including a centrally placed Saw a Woman In Half reference:
I can saw a woman in two
But you won't want to look in the box when I'm through
I can make love disappear
For my next trick I'll need a volunteer
- In The Magic Show, the character Charmin is cut in half in the standard fashion, and her bottom half is promptly misplaced. She spends most of the rest of the musical as a recumbent torso on a wheeled table, trying to find her legs.
- Rank 4 in No More Heroes is a stage magician who fights Travis at his show; before the fight, one of the two tricks he does involves cutting a woman in half -- with a buzzsaw. He later uses the saw in an attempt to bisect Travis vertically and it plays a role in his own demise.
- The Tale of Orpheo's Curse, a point-and-click adventure game, has one ghost who has suffered from the trick and now has a wandering bottom half as a result.
- In Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, if you close the coffin on Stan and try to use the saw on the coffin, Guybrush will say, "I'm no magician."
- In Sam and Max Freelance Police Season One, the season finale takes place in a magician's lair with various tricks around the place. Saving the day involves taking the saw from the saw-a-woman-in-half trick and using it to saw through something else instead.
- In Dead Rising 2, there are a pair of magicians attempting to perfect this trick. They have a giant circular saw, a woman strapped to a table, and a complete misunderstanding of how the trick is supposed to work. It doesn't end well.
- Played for laughs at Sullah's Sideshow in World of Warcraft. Two NPCs are practicing the trick with a box containing two pygmies. When the first saws too slowly, the other attacks with a flashy blow, shattering the box and killing both pygmies.
- In Midnight Mysteries: Haunted Houdini, Bess Houdini's ghost is the subject of the trick.
- In the Strong Bad Email magic trick, Strong Bad is asked to create a magic show, including putting Homestar himself in a box and taking a saw to him. As enthusiastic as he is about it, however, he doesn't quite seem to recognize the reference to the classic trick, as when he finally attempts to take a saw to Homestar, he's got him standing upright, wearing a cardboard box with a pair of unconvincing fake arms attached to it. The arms fall off prematurely, interrupting whatever he had in mind, but it's enough to convince Coach Z that he's "a Level 3 Dark Wizard" all the same.
- Used hilariously in the Looney Tunes short "Show Biz Bugs", in which Daffy Duck is not intimidated by the whole scenario because he thinks it's all a trick (in fact, he even describes the trick's mechanics to the audience in the process). Cue Daffy's upper body detaching from his lower body. "It's a good thing I have Blue Cross."
- Another Warner Bros. cartoon had Egghead (a precursor to Elmer Fudd) going on about how fake the trick was as he volunteered for it. At the end of the trick, Egghead jumps out and walks away... with his upper and lower halves going in opposite directions.
- When Garfield and Jon visit a magic shop, the shop owner's dog, Merlin, chases Garfield while Jon is looking for a trick. At one point, Merlin is tricked into entering such a box, and Garfield sets to sawing the box in half. Sure enough, despite fretting on the part of Merlin, the box and Merlin are halved without injury to the latter.
- The Mask: The Mask gets sawn, even having the guts to walk out of the box in two.
- This was also done by The Pink Panther, in one of the skits in "Pink Outs".
- In one 1976 episode of Scooby Doo, Shaggy and Scooby volunteered for one of these tricks after the magician offered them two free dinners.
- In Futurama, where Bender tries to become a magician, he saws Zoidberg in half with human feet sticking out of the opposite end where upon he opens the case, and reveals that he has not been really sawn in half, much to Bender's detriment, and to the disapointment of the rest of the crew.
- Used by Teen Titans villain Mumbo in his barrage of magic tricks-turned-deadly. He actually calls for a lovely assistant from the audience and yanks Starfire down with a cane. As he prepares to perform the "trick", he adds:
Mumbo: It's only fair to warn you... I Have No Idea What I'm Doing.
- Invoked in an episode of Animaniacs, where the Warners end up in Transylvania, which of course means an encounter with a vampire. Toward the end of the short, he's sealed himself in his coffin, and Wakko uses a chainsaw to get him out. After Wakko cuts the coffin in half, the vampire's head pokes out of one half, and his feet from the other. Embarrassed, Wakko quickly slaps the halves back together.
- The plot of an episode of CatDog is that the titular pair are separated by this trick, but the magician is pulled away before he can reunite them. The pair at first enjoy their newfound freedom before trying to find a way to re-attach themselves.
- Is done to Barney Rubble on The Flintstones while he's hypnotized. The magician doing the trick shows Fred (and the audience) how it's done—Barney is in the top half bent in two, and the bottom half has fake legs.
- An episode of Ruby Gloom had Skull Boy doing this to Iris. She spends most of the rest of the episode in two halves because Skull Boy gets amnesia and forgets the combination for the lock.
- P.T. Selbit is credited as the first magician to saw a woman in half.
- The page picture is a classic "thin model" sawing.
- Legless performer Johnny Eck (who was also one of the most memorable characters in Freaks) participated in a variant of this act where his nearly identical twin brother (who had legs) would be the ringer called up for the trick—and during the act, Johnny and a dwarf in pants would be substituted so that the "volunteer" would fall into two pieces on stage. Freaked audiences out, you bet!
- Criss Angel has since done a variant of the same trick with a legless woman. And himself.
- David Copperfield did a version where he cut himself in half with a giant circular saw. The trick was set-up as an escape stunt gone wrong—he was supposed to escape from the box before the saw cuts through it, but the saw malfunctions, drops prematurely, and cuts him in half.
- In the 1960s magician Robert Hardin invented the Zig Zag Girl, a variation in which the subject is in a vertical box and sliced into three parts.
- the story was written in a time before easy divorce